Writer Jasmine Khan / Photographer Connor Pope
Heading to The Spotted Dog before hours risks bumping into their seemingly strict landlady, but jazz guitarist and growing local legend Tom Ford says the pub feels most like home in Brum, so we’re risking it. Welcomed in from the rain by the landlady, she’s much less stern when you’re not pushing your luck after last orders, and she lights a cosy fire to dry us off.
‘The Dog’ is a notorious Birmingham pub with its original woodwork, quirky decor and plentiful candlesticks in Jameson’s bottles. Tom and I soon find ourselves seated in front of the smouldering fireplace. Fair warning, I know this chat might get a tad deep.
We both agreed too many interviews centre around emphasising an artist’s social media persona, rather than exploring what they really think. Ahead of our interview, Tom said: “Music can either be McDonalds, or a home-cooked meal”, and that stuck with me.
“Everything with this stuff is super subjective”, says Tom when I remind him of his previous statement which summarised a larger discussion around entertainment and authenticity. Delving back into it, Tom explains there’s nothing wrong with McDonald’s music, it can be great to play and you can play entertaining music authentically.
But home-cooked meal music hits differently.
“Last year I listened to an Australian band called Amyl and The Sniffers, they’re a punk band”, muses Tom. “It’s not that they’re breaking ground with new sounds you haven’t heard before, but the authenticity of what they’re doing is so strong.
“Their ‘originalness’ breaks through the constructs of the genre they’re playing.”
To Tom at least, authenticity isn’t about what you’re playing, or how, or maybe even why you’re playing a certain song. It’s about an immersive and intuitive energy a musician must bring to feel genuine, one which relays the meaning behind the music they’re playing without performatively forcing it down the audience’s throat.
Getting closer to home Tom smiles and says, “One of my favourite musicians is… I’m going to say Liam’s last name wrong now”, referring to well-known local psych musician Liam McKeown.
“Liam’s in so many different projects and I feel like if he’s involved in a project, he adds so much weight to stuff. Even when he’s playing a more subdued background role.
“He’s one of the most natural musician’s I’ve heard; it doesn’t matter what setting he’s in, he’s him.”
We conclude that music which intends to entertain can be just as authentic as music which intends to bare the artist’s soul. But the issue arises when everyone’s expected to make music and market music at the rate of a fast food franchise, if they want to be successful that is.
“There’s this ongoing debate about the pros and cons of modern technology, connectivity”, tells Tom. “It’s difficult for young musicians because there’s an expectation to fit a certain template and also have a skill that wasn’t needed before.
“There’s this stress for musicians, any kind of creative person who has to survive, there’s more of an importance placed on content creation.
“It’s something a multimedia specialist would’ve done 10 years ago, but now it’s something that everyone’s got to master, and still have time to write music and perform.”
Tom continues: “From an authenticity point of view, the problem is people follow set permitters that other people have been successful with. You get that in music, that happens in a creative way, it can lead to great stuff.
“But, in a social sense, you see people pressured into joining in with the same thing as everyone else, and I think if anything it’s going to stop people from having the confidence to find themselves and be authentic.”
So Tom, you’ve got a good social media following but you’re clearly not that into social media, how do you manage it?
Tom replies, “It’s important to engage on some level, but I feel confident in the idea that if you’re struggling to find your place in it, wait until something feels natural and in the meantime use it for your local network.
“People will hear about you. If you have 1000 followers but they’re people that you actually want to have direct contact with that’s great, that’s what it should be used for.
“In terms of the stress of thinking you need to go viral. Well, that’s no different than thinking I’ve got to win the lottery or I need to have a hit single – there’s no sure fire way to do it.
“Even if you do a gig at The Sunflower Lounge to 10 people, and eight of the 10 people have never heard of you. But four of those people want to go to your next gig…
“The Australian band are a perfect example, their Spotify streams are not bad but not that good. That being said I know people with more [stream] that can’t sell rooms out like Amyl and The Sniffers.
“Online doesn’t always translate to real life.”
Tom Ford’s upcoming track titled ‘1998’ will be released on 8 January, and he’ll be live and in conversation at Hockley Social Club on Thursday 16 March following his latest EP dropping on March 10.
For more from Tom Ford go to: www.thetennischampion.bandcamp.com
For more from The Spotted Dog: https://www.facebook.com/profile.php